A History of French Cinema

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Course Information
Film Studies
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

There are no particular requirements to attend this course. However, the students shall be aware that the film clips will be taken from the professor’s private collection of movies with no subtitles, as it is the best way to discover unknown, exciting films and rely on well proven classics. A short explanation of the content of the clip should be available online, along with the film excerpt.


This course wishes to give the students a survey of French Cinema, which should be mind-opening, comprehensive, and attractive. For this purpose, although the History of French Cinema will unfold in chronological order, it will be concentrated into some periods only. These periods have been carefully chosen among what is generally considered by film historians all over the world to be the high points of French Cinema:

  • The Classic era (1930-1939)
  • The German occupation (1940-1945)
  • The “Cinéma de qualité” (“quality French cinema) (1945-1960)
  • The “Nouvelle Vague” (“New Wave”) and its afterwards (1960-1980)

After a survey of the aftermath of the New Wave, in the 80's and 90's, contemporary French Cinema will be discussed in an epilog, during the course last session.

In order to avoid an over-specialised approach, the traditional French focus on the director as the sole person responsible for a film (“auteur theory”, a term which will be duly explained and discussed during weeks 10 and 11) will be dealt with, obviously, but counterbalanced by an emphasis on French actors. From Jean Gabin in the 30's till Marion Cotillard, French actors have been inspirational to French cineastes and are more that just a tool to their artistic achievement. This is why in this course Jeanne Moreau, for instance, will be discussed just as well as François Truffaut or Jacques Demy or Louis Malle, since she has been the focal point of some of these directors' best films. This approach enables us to concentrate our knowledge. Jean Renoir or Marcel Carné or Julien Duvivier or Jean Grémillon (this last one may be less familiar to non-French students) can justify a seminar by themselves, on each one of them. Jean Gabin, who has been preeminently present in these four directors' best films, allows us to speak of the four at the same time.

Complete Course Syllabus: